Coping with Criticism

“You have such a pretty face, if only it wasn’t hidden by all that extra weight.” Every woman who has ever battled a weight problem, without doubt, has heard this veiled criticism from someone at least once in her life. Alas, the majority of people feel it is their purpose in life to point out faults in others in an effort to “fix” them. I have, regrettably, concluded this is the natural order of life. Nevertheless, because of wisdom acquired with age and experience, I have also concluded that the experts are right. There really are two basic types of criticism: destructive and constructive and the coping mechanisms utilized depends on which type you find yourself facing.

Destructive criticism serves to tear down and humiliate while leaving its target with no escape or chance for redemption. Verbal abuse is its weapon and destruction is its main purpose. For example, “You always mess up, how could you be so stupid? You have no talent,” etcare common phrases used when hearing this type of criticism. Often, criticism of this sort is made out of anger and frustration and should be handled with this is mind. Here are some suggestions on dealing with this type of reproach when it presents itself.
Detach your emotions This is easier said than done; especially in the heat of the moment. But, if you don’t learn to do this, you will expend valuable energy in dodging remarks that could be better used by looking at what was said in a constructive manner. You will allow yourself the chance to show maturity in the face of a bad situation.
Know yourself – Believing in and knowing yourself is the weapon of defense against cruel, critical remarks. This can only be achieved by being as honest about yourself as possible. Critique yourself fairly and often before someone else has the chance to do it first.
Respect scale – How much respect do you have for the person who is reprimanding you? This is not to say that you ever deserve this kind of treatment but keep in mind that people are only human. If the person is someone that normally shows you respect and consideration, you may need to overlook the event.
Ask your critic for suggestions – In one big swoop, this will win your critic over to your side. By asking him what his suggestion would be to correct the inadequacy he obviously sees, you will bring peace to a potentially explosive situation. You may also learn something in the process.
Walk away – If none of the above has worked, walk away. Do not keep yourself in a predicament that will only bring you distress or mental pain. Keep in mind that no one can hurt you if you do not let them.

Constructive criticism is meant, in its pure form, to build up and help another. It will focus not only on the weaknesses but the strengths of a person. Smart bosses, good teachers, very good parents, and sensitive spouses use this type of criticism to bring out the best in their employee and child. Obviously, handling a situation of this type does not use as much negative energy. Here are some suggestions for handling such cases.

Detach your emotions – As with negative criticism, handling constructive criticism requires the same action. You cannot make the criticism personal if you are going to benefit from its intended purpose.
Restate what you have heard – It is crucial that you understand what has just been said to you. Repeat, in your own words, what you are hearing. It is amazing how often we do not understand the meaning of what has been said to us and, at times, will even add our own spin to it.
Seek assistance – After you have received the well-intended reprimand, ask your critic what he or she might suggest to bring these changes about.
Talk to another trusted advisor – If you are still having trouble with the recent list of complaints, talk to another trusted adviser. Choose someone who knows you well and who is not directly linked to your situation. Ask them to be honest and then accept their truthfulness. If they are a good adviser, they will be frank and willing to help.
Acceptance – Incorporate the suggestions into changing preventable behavior or attitude. This is especially important if you are going through an annual job evaluation! This is also particularly helpful to keep in mind if you are a teen. Accept the fact that you, too, are human and might just be in need of some improvement.
Sense of humor – When you are alone, laugh at yourself. After all, humor is what gets us through most of our difficult times. Give yourself a break for being human. You might discover that you really are guilty of doing the things your boss, teacher, parent, or spouse has just told you.

In either case, criticism is not a pleasant experience. As adults, we must deal with criticism by realizing that the ones conveying their disapproval are human; filled with all the faults and false judgments that a human being carries. However, veiled compliments, such as the example I give in the opening sentence, could be labeled as either destructive or constructive. Well meant words, if not spoken appropriately, can be as harmful as those who deliberately criticize with harm in mind. Nonetheless, the ultimate responsibility of how you handle these remarks lies with you. If you see each case as a moment to grow, you will become a better person in the process.